HEALTH

Former addict overcomes decades of drug, alcohol abuse

Feb 21, 2020, 10:30 AM | Updated: Aug 3, 2022, 12:54 pm
former addict...
Christian Smith joins the Project Recovery podcast to talk about his experience with addiction.

Christian Smith is a man of many faces. He’s a grandpa, a graduate of the University of Utah and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he’ll admit: one of his worst faces is that of a former addict.

Smith joined the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast to detail how decades of addiction left him homeless, broke and on the verge of suicide.

The early stages of being an addict

Smith’s experience with addiction stems from a simple event in his life during his early 20s.

“On a spring morning, I’m riding to work on a motorcycle and I’m in a motorcycle accident,” he said. “I end up at the hospital, ambulance to the hospital, broken bones, road rash all over … and they sent me home with a bottle of pain medicine.”

Smith quickly began to abuse the pain medication while rehabbing his injuries. He also realized that if he took enough, he could numb any mental pain he was dealing with at the time. Smith had begun to lay the groundwork to become an addict.

Abusing the system

After Smith’s wounds healed from his motorcycle accident, he realized that he could game the system and continue taking prescribed pain killers. He would show up to the ER with an injured ankle after a basketball injury and he would get whatever he wanted.

“Each time I went to the ER, which is where my wife worked, and they love Kelly at the hospital, they would ask me, ‘What do you need for pain?'” he recalled. “From that first motorcycle accident, somewhere between five to eight years, the window between me using shortened to where I was using all the time because I didn’t want to go through withdrawals.”

Thriving as an addict

After years of daily abuse, Smith’s tolerance had grown to extreme levels. He was a full-blown addict, but his personal life was flourishing. He was slow to complete college because of raising kids and working full-time, but he eventually ended up selling mechanical heart valves. His connections throughout the industry grew and he began to make a ton of money as a representative.

“We were, financially, doing really well,” he said. “At the peak, I was making $50,000 a month.”

Smith had become so close with one particular doctor that he was able to enter his office and take sample prescriptions. But hw saw this as an opportunity to indulge himself in whatever he wanted.

“I would go into the office and I would say, ‘I’m here to see the doc,’ and the nurse would say, ‘He’s busy with patients still. Why don’t you go into his office?”‘ he detailed. “I was going to ransack where he kept those pills.”

Now, he was a thief who was lying to his family and whose addiction was starting to push himself to the limits.

Christian’s addiction begins to flourish

Smith began to feel the effects of his addiction to pills the longer he was abusing them. His tolerance had increased and with it — the cost. He was paying $80 for a single pill and his wife was starting to get suspicious.

To make matters worse, his addiction was beginning to take a toll on his employment. So much so, that Smith was let go after he forgot to deliver a heart valve during surgery.

Instead of curbing his addictive behavior and focus on repairing the damages he had caused, he picked up gambling. Smith began to gamble whatever money he could come up with — losing thousands of dollars in the process.

Overcome by addiction, he even stole $3,000 — which was to go toward a used vehicle — from his own son to go gamble in Wendover, NV.

“He gives me his debit card on a Friday afternoon, with the PIN number and I decided it’s a good idea to drive past the car lot, alone, to Wendover,” he said. “Over that weekend … they could get on the internet, see that money being gone, but they couldn’t do anything about it.”

Once the weekend was over and all of the money was spent, he decided it was finally time to go home. Except when he arrived, he wasn’t welcome anymore. His wife, Kelly, kicked him out as soon as he pulled into the driveway.

A glimpse of hope from the perspective of an addict

Smith knew he had to change. Addicts know they need to change. Once the grasp of addiction takes hold, it’s a daily fight within oneself to stay in control. It’s a battle that is rarely successful alone. And because of his actions, he had no one.

To make matters worse, Smith began using crack cocaine — which opened a new door of self-harm. His actions ultimately began to catch up with him, though. So much so, that he would spend a year and a half in jail for theft and forgery after being arrested in Rose Park one evening.

Once he was released from prison, he was allowed back into the family. They thought that Smith’s focus should be on treatment and he was going to need some help. He would spend the next 83 days working on himself and trying to combat his addictive behavior.

But Smith realized that it was time to focus on what mattered most — reconnecting with himself and his family.

But within that first week, he would relapse just after six days. Smith would spend the next 10 days on the streets of Salt Lake City. From sunrise to sunset, he started abusing the drugs he had fought so hard to stay away from.

Facing the music

He cut off all communication with his family and his new counselor, Jason Webb. Webb’s main focus who was to help Smith stay on his road to recovery — an almost impossible task. Little did he know, that same counselor was going to be the one who was going to save Smith from himself.

“That 10-day bender has ended. There’s no more dope. There’s no more way to fund it,” Smith said. “I was crashing in a place in North Salt Lake on the west side off Redwood Road. I used their landline to check my voicemail, obviously, it was full.”

Smith’s counselor had been trying to reach him all week. His stream of voicemails started off very concerned for his patient’s well-being. By the end of the week, Webb was beginning to get very upset. And then Smith got to the last voicemail.

An addict no more

“The last message he left was the message that saved my life and was the last catalytic event,” Smith described. “‘Christian, it’s Jason. Have I told you I love you lately?'”

That message gave Smith enough courage to pick up the phone and tell Webb that he wasn’t in a good place. His counselor had opened the door of communication, with love — not judgment.

Smith ultimately went back to treatment for another 30 days on Feb. 4th, 2010. Ever since that day, his main focus was on his commitment to his sobriety and staying connected with his family.

“I wouldn’t wish what I went through, or what Kelly and I and our kids have gone through on anybody,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s how I became acquainted with myself, my kids, my wife, and the god of my understanding.”

Listen to the podcast

For more information on addiction or if you or someone you know is struggling, you can find more information on Facebook and on KSL TV. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.

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